Obama: Changes in Mideast Make Israel-Palestinian Peace More Urgent Than Ever

Peres spoke after meeting with the U.S. president in Washington, where the two leaders discussed the impact of recent Mideast turmoil on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

United States President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that with the winds of change sweeping the broader Middle East it was "more urgent than ever" to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama was speaking to reporters after holding White House talks with President Shimon Peres.

Following the meet, Peres gave a press conference during which he reiterated Obama's message, saying "both ourselves and the Palestinians think that what is happening in other Arab countries will have a big influence on us and on the Palestinians."

Peres with Obama - Reuters - April 5, 2011

"Negotiations can begin from a position of differences," Peres said. "This is a one-time historic opportunity."

When asked about the peace plan proposed by former Israeli defense chiefs, academics and businessmen, Peres said he will only speak about the Israeli government's initiative.

"I think the Israeli government is ready to renew negotiations," said Peres. "I am not hopeless – I am optimistic… I believe Israel's prime minister is serious and wants to do everything he can to take advantage of the opportunity."

The two leaders also discussed the changes which have occurred and are occurring across the Middle East and agreed, according to Peres, that "this is an opportunity to change the region."

"This could be an opportunity to put an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians," Peres said.

Neither side intends to force things on one another, the President said about negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. "Negotiations need to come from free will."

Following the meeting, U.S. President Obama said that Peres is an "extraordinary statesman."

"I think he and I both share a belief that this is both a challenge and an opportunity, that with the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it's more urgent than ever than we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Obama said, adding that Peres had "some very interesting ideas around those issues."

Peres also said that he asked Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard, although he added that he didn't expect Obama to answer his request right then.

Regarding the impending UN vote on the recognition of a Palestinian state in September, Peres rejected any unilateral moves pushed by European states.

"The European move will not succeed if there won't be agreement from both sides. A solution cannot be forced," Peres said. "If the Europeans try to do it without approval, without coordinating it with us, they will be left with only one side."

The issue of building in Jerusalem was also raised during the conversation, Peres said. He said that on that subject, he told Obama "we will behave the way that we have behaved for the past 40 years."